Planning an estate can be stressful. What is often worse, though, is the state that the living family is left in after you pass. If your estate is not carefully divided, a family can quickly turn on itself. These five tips can help to save you from family turmoil:
1. Meet with an Attorney
A few wrong words can ruin a will, and a will constructed without an attorney can have trouble standing up to probate. If you want to make sure that you minimize family squabbles, have an experienced estate planning attorney help you put together your will. This will lend it a greater air of legitimacy and give you a chance to put together something that can withstand your death.
2. Discuss It
It is always important to discuss your estate before your death. If it is important to you that a specific person receives an item, let the person know. Likewise, explain to any family member left out of the will or who will receive minimal inheritance why this is being done; this will allow those family members to know your reasoning and might stop them from taking it out on the rest of the family.
It might be wise to set up your will to leave gifts to a class of people rather than to individuals. You might want to leave your estate in a certain percentage to a spouse and then your monetary assets in equal percentages to your children or grandchildren. Equality has a wonderful way of ending arguments among survivors, even if the resulting inheritance is not exactly what was expected.
4. Consistent Updates
It is also wise to update your will consistently. New grandchildren might be born or a marriage might dissolve in life, but you might have clauses in your will that have not reflected these changes. If you want to stop fights before they start, try to update your will around the time of any major life event. That will, at the least, keep things current.
5. In Terrorem
Finally, there is the “nuclear option” of estate planning – the in terrorem or “no contest” clause. In some states, an in terrorem clause can be used in a will to punish those who would challenge the will and are not successful. These clauses will cause an individual to be removed from the will completely or to only receive a smaller share of his or her inheritance. Given that the vast majority of will challenges are failures, this is often a potent warning. Many people want to include an in terrorem clause when they are disinheriting a family member. When using an in terrorem clause in this instance, it a good idea to leave a small amount (i.e. $10,000) to that beneficiary so that they have something to loose by contesting the will.
Bove, A. 2005. The Complete Book of Wills, Trust and Estates, 3rd Edition.